We can talk for hours
And the line is still engaged
We're not getting any closer
You're too many miles away
And I might as well be talking backwards
Am I making any sense to you?
And the only thing that really matters
Is the one thing I can't seem to do
When the night was over
And the field was lit up bright
And I walked home with you
Nothing I said came out right
And I might as well be talking backwards
Am I making any sense to you?
And the only thing that really matters
Is the one thing I can't seem to do
(Tobin - “Talking Backwards” by Real Estate)
All of these lines across my face
Tell you the story of who I am
So many stories of where I've been
And how I got to where I am
But these stories don't mean anything
When you've got no one to tell them to, it's true
I was made for you
You see the smile that's on my mouth
It's hiding the words that don't come out
And all of our friends who think that I'm blessed
They don't know my head is a mess
No, they don't know who I really am
And they don't know what I've been through like you do
And I was made for you
(Christen - “The Story” by Brandi Carlisle)
Tobin could feel herself starting to panic, pacing back and forth at the entrance to the stadium. She’d never taken someone to the restaurant she and Scottie called their place, not even Glennon and Abby.
Christen was beautiful and untethered and talented, and Tobin suddenly felt very aware that her shirt had a purple stain on the hem from where Scottie had accidentally bumped into her with a popsicle that afternoon. She didn’t feel confident or at ease. She felt like Christen was completely out of her league, and she was crossing a line that she couldn’t cross.
“Do you have a painting to finish?” Scottie asked, cocking her head to the side curiously as she watched her mom pace.
“What?” Tobin asked, stopping her pacing and looking at where Scottie was standing.
“You always do that when you’re stressed and have work to finish,” Scottie shrugged, holding Christen’s jersey around her neck like a cape.
“Sorry,” Tobin mumbled. “I’m just thinking really hard.”
“What about?” Scottie wondered, bouncing from foot to foot.
“About a painting,” Tobin lied. “What are you thinking about?”
“Tiramisu,” Scottie giggled.
“Sounds like we better get going soon then,” Tobin grinned.
Christen gave herself another glance in the mirror on the locker room wall, sighing at the tired look in her eyes and the less-than-stellar outfit she’d worn to the stadium today.
“Ready to go?” Kelley asked, pulling her t-shirt over her head.
“Uh...you go ahead,” Christen replied, tucking the short-sleeve henley shirt into the front of her casual blue jeans, trying to see if a nice French tuck would elevate the outfit.
“I gave you a ride here. We were gonna go get food with Emily. Where are you going?” Kelley asked, her eyes narrowing in Christen’s direction.
“Out,” Christen replied casually, pulling the shirt out of the jeans and walking back over to her locker.
“With whom?” Kelley pried, following closely behind Christen.
Christen leveled Kelley with a look, sliding her feet into her Converse and grabbing her purse. She wasn’t going to dignify that with a response, not when the knowing look in Kelley’s eye said she already knew exactly who Christen was going out with.
Kelley gasped, reaching out and grabbing Christen’s hand. “You’re totally going out with Scottie and Tobin. I forgive you for ditching Emily and me now.”
“Like you two wouldn’t have ditched me at some point to go ‘be just friends’ back at your place,” Christen teased, choosing to focus on the Emily part and not the first part, the part about going out with Scottie and Tobin.
“I’m really happy for you,” Kelley said, a small smile creeping onto her face.
“There’s nothing to be happy about. I’m just getting dinner with them. It’s not a big deal,” Christen shrugged, sliding her purse over her shoulder.
“It is. And Emily gave me the details. She’s 28 and single,” Kelley smirked.
“Tell Match.com I say thanks,” Christen deadpanned.
“She was married too,” Kelley mumbled.
Christen cleared her throat and stuck her hands into her pockets. “Of course she was married, probably to that Glenny person who hosted family dinners,” Christen thought.
“Well...to be more specific, Emily said she had a wife at some point, but apparently Glennon called her the devil,” Kelley said, trying to remember all the details Emily had given her after the game.
“Glennon...you mean the Academy director? She knows Tobin?” Christen asked, her brow furrowing and brain racing to catch up. She was already piecing things together, making mental leaps to tie this Glenny character to Glennon.
“Yeah, apparently Tobin’s really close to Abby and Glennon,” Kelley shrugged, swinging her bag over her shoulder. “Like going over to their house regularly for ‘family dinner’ close.”
Christen felt a small relieved, chuckle leave her lips. She felt silly for not having put two and two together. She knew Abby and Glennon, she just hadn’t known that they knew Tobin.
So Tobin was single, definitely not dating, currently married, or divorced from Glenny, aka Glennon, and the family dinners were with Glennon and Abby. Not that all of that meant anything. Not that it mattered that Tobin was single and available. Christen wasn’t allowed to be interested in Tobin like that. Christen was just curious...just curious.
“You totally have a shot,” Kelley winked.
Christen held up a hand and shook her head. “Stop, Kel.”
“I’m just saying, you’ve won the kid over which is half the battle,” Kelley pushed.
“And I’m just saying to lay off. It’s not like that. It can’t be,” Christen replied, her voice tightening just a bit. “I’m going to dinner because Scottie asked. That’s all. It can’t be anything more than that.” The "I can’t be anything more than that" lingered in the air between them.
“Christen, you deserve good people like them,” Kelley whispered.
Christen felt her jaw click shut. “I’ll see you tomorrow for recovery,” she said quietly, pushing by Kelley and ignoring the voice inside of her that screamed that Kelley was lying, that she didn’t deserve good people like them.
Christen weaved through the hallways that lead out of the locker room, through the stadium, and then walked out of the player’s gate. She spotted Tobin and Scottie standing near the stadium entrance and felt herself relax just a bit at the sight of them. With a small smile, she approached, running her hands over the wrinkles in her shirt that had come from her throwing it into her locker carelessly before the game.
“You look really pretty,” Scottie said, looking at Christen out of soccer gear for the first time.
“Not as pretty as you,” Christen winked, tapping the brim of Scottie’s snapback playfully.
“Is your car here? You can follow us or-” Tobin started.
“Kel actually drove me here so...I can just Uber and meet you wherever it is we’re going,” Christen shrugged, fiddling with the strap of her purse.
“You don’t need to Uber,” Tobin grinned, noticing that Christen’s nerves seemed to match her own.
“You can ride in The Kraken,” Scottie giggled.
“The what now?” Christen huffed, laughing a little.
“She calls the car The Kraken,” Tobin sighed, already starting to lead the way to the Audi. “I have no idea why.”
Scottie slipped her hand into Christen’s and beamed up at her. Christen felt herself smiling back, her words slipping from her lips without thought.
“Growing up I called my family car the Golden Chariot. It was an ugly, beat-up gold minivan. But that thing could make it from school to soccer in ten minutes flat with my Dad driving,” Christen admitted, a little surprised that she’d just willingly talked about that.
She didn’t talk about her family, about her childhood, about anything that had to do with her personal life or her parents. But apparently that all went right out the window when it came to Scottie and Tobin.
“My parents had a really old, green Volkswagen Rabbit,” Tobin laughed. “It had no air conditioning, and road trips were miserable. But we still cried when it died for the final time.”
Christen cringed at the choice of words and quickly looked away from Tobin and down at Scottie. “What’s your favorite thing to get for dinner at this place?” she asked, praying the change in topic would grant her some reprieve from the sudden weight on her chest.
“Pasghetti and meatballs,” Scottie sighed wistfully. “Oh! And Tiramisu,” she added with a big smile.
“Pasghetti is good,” Tobin nodded, unlocking the car and opening the back door for Scottie to climb into her booster seat.
Christen hesitated nearby, not wanting to get in the way of the obviously well-practiced ritual of getting Scottie into the car and situated.
“You can have shotgun,” Tobin said, looking over her shoulder at Christen.
“Great,” Christen replied with a tight smile, waiting for Tobin to finish up with Scottie before moving to the passenger’s side door. She got settled in the passenger’s seat as Tobin got into the driver’s seat. Christen forced herself to take a few deep breaths, her eyes trained out the front windshield as she waited for the weight on her chest to alleviate.
“Mommy, can we listen to Frozen?” Scottie asked, making Tobin close her eyes and release a long breath as soon as she was buckled into her seat. Tobin knew every single word to the Frozen soundtrack but wished she didn’t.
That adorable question and that tired sigh did the job. Christen’s chest felt lighter, and she stifled a laugh at Tobin’s reaction. “Wait...what’s Frozen?” Christen asked, feigning ignorance and turning around in her seat to look at Scottie. She forced her mouth into a frown, trying not to break.
“WHAT?!” Scottie gasped from the back seat, reaching forward to put her hands on Christen’s shoulders.
Tobin looked over at Christen with an exhausted look, practically begging her not to encourage Scottie. She’d listen to literally anything else at this point.
Christen caught Tobin’s pleading look and let a teasing smirk slide onto her face. “Is that the one with the green chameleon? Or wait, the one with the chicken?” she asked, her green eyes narrowing playfully.
“No, silly!” Scottie giggled. “That’s Tangled and Moana. Mommy, play it for her!”
“Yeah, play it for me,” Christen laughed, turning back around in her seat. She winked at Scottie in the reflection of the rearview mirror.
Tobin couldn’t help the smile that crept onto her face. She secretly loved the teasing. She also not so secretly loved that Frozen made Scottie happy.
Scottie sang the whole way, every single song. They’d had to listen to “Do You Want to Build a Snowman?” twice because Scottie didn’t think Christen got the full effect of it after just one listen.
Only after making it through half of “Fixer Upper,” did they pull up in front of a three-story brick building. Tobin pressed a button on a remote in her car and pulled into the well-lit garage. She pulled the keys out of the ignition and opened her door, only hesitating when she didn’t see Christen move.
“Oh, we’re just parking here,” Tobin said.
“So technically, you did bring me to your place?” Christen said, her tone slightly teasing. “Unless we’re parking in the garage of someone else’s place?”
“Nope! This is our house!” Scottie said, unbuckling her own seatbelt and pushing her car door open, ready to slide out.
“It’s hard to park in Little Italy,” Tobin shrugged, slipping from her seat and closing the door behind her.
Christen got out of the car as well, trying not to gawk at the size of the garage.
“Can I show Christen our field?” Scottie begged, bouncing up and down on her feet.
“You have a restaurant and a field?” Christen asked, arching a brow in Tobin’s direction.
“She calls it our restaurant, and it’s a tiny, turf field in the basement,” Tobin clarified. “I thought you were hungry and needed Tiramisu stat, little bit,” Tobin said to Scottie, nodding toward the street.
“Oh yeah, I’m starving,” Scottie groaned dramatically. She grabbed ahold of Christen’s hand and yanked her toward the open garage door. “Let’s go, I know the way!”
Christen let herself be pulled to the street, turning back to marvel at the gorgeous building Tobin and Scottie called their home. She let out a low whistle, knowing that building definitely cost a pretty penny.
“Hold up, kid. We don’t want to lose Tobin,” Christen said, gently pulling Scottie to a stop near a tree on the sidewalk a few feet away from the garage.
Tobin finished closing the garage and pocketed her wallet and keys, jogging a little to catch up to Scottie and Christen.
“I don’t know if you need Tiramisu,” Tobin teased. “You seem hyped up already.”
Scottie gasped, her wide, gray eyes trained on Tobin. Christen quickly swooped in, squeezing Scottie’s hand gently.
“I was promised a chance to split a Tiramisu with Scottie here, so I hope she needs one,” Christen said, the corner of her mouth lifting up a bit.
“In that case,” Tobin sighed with a matching smile, grabbing Scottie’s other hand and walking toward the restaurant.
The three of them made their way toward Little Italy, only stopping once they reached a small Italian restaurant with twinkly lights and a host waiting at the door.
“Scottie!” the host called, kneeling down and opening his arms for her to run into.
“Dommie!” Scottie replied, jumping into the host’s arms.
Christen watched as not just the host, but every waiter, every busboy, and almost every other patron of the restaurant recognized both Scottie and Tobin, giving them enthusiastic and warm greetings.
“You guys come here often?” Christen asked once they’d been seated at a small, round table in the back corner of the restaurant. The maroon tablecloth was soft and the small wicker basket of bread smelled heavenly.
“Almost every Saturday,” Scottie nodded. “Mommy painted Gio’s niece’s nursery, so now he gives us this table every weekend.”
“He sounds like a nice guy,” Christen commented, settling her napkin in her lap and fiddling with it slightly. She knew this wasn’t a date. This clearly wasn’t a date. But she was still a little nervous that they didn’t have soccer or the Frozen soundtrack to fill the space between the three of them.
“He’s the best!” Scottie cheered, slipping out of her seat and racing across the restaurant to where a chef had just stepped out of the kitchen to see Scottie.
“She has a lot of fans,” Tobin mumbled, looking at a menu that she’d had memorized for the last few years. She couldn’t help that she felt jittery under Christen’s gaze, or that her hands felt clammy with Christen sitting across from her, even with Scottie acting as a sort of buffer.
Christen just nodded and made a small, noncommittal noise, also dropping her attention to the menu in front of her, grateful for the distraction. She knew this wasn’t a good idea. Once soccer was off the table, she was just Christen Press, and she didn’t belong here. She didn’t belong sitting in this Mom and Pop Italian restaurant with a kind, gorgeous, fascinating woman and her incredible kid.
After a few beats of silence, Tobin cleared her throat softly. “Before Scottie, I used to stop here for sangrias,” Tobin said quietly, the corner of her mouth lifting into a small smile. “They’ll knock you on your ass really fast, so beware.”
“I’ve never met a drink that could do that before,” Christen chuckled, her eyes still on the menu. She winced slightly at the admission and avoided looking up at Tobin. “I mean, um, I just played a game. So I shouldn’t drink.”
“You can if you want,” Tobin said. “Sometimes I have a drink with dinner in front of Scottie.”
Christen shook her head, eyes drifting up to meet Tobin’s. “That’s okay. I’ll probably just stick with water.”
“Whatever you want. I’m buying,” Tobin replied, looking over to where Scottie was waiting by the kitchen door for Gio to come out with something.
“I’m racking up quite the debt. With the coffees, and now dinner,” Christen observed.
“Gio never charges full price,” Tobin shrugged. “Plus, you played a good game,” she added, shooting Christen her signature lopsided grin.
“What happened? An hour ago it was a great game,” Christen teased, relaxing back in her seat a bit at the sight of the easy smile on Tobin’s face. She sank into the rapport that existed between them, not letting herself think too hard on anything. Especially not at the way her heart was responding to Tobin sitting across from her, to the look of the candlelight playing off the sharp line of her jaw and lighting up her brown eyes.
Tobin’s smile grew even more at Christen’s playful teasing. She closed her menu and matched Christen’s body language. She was immediately distracted by Christen’s deep, green eyes and soft smile. She’d never sat across from a woman this beautiful, and suddenly she felt like she was on a date, praying that Christen would stay past drinks. “I guess Frozen beat it out of me.”
“I forgot how painful some of those songs were,” Christen laughed. “Reindeers are Better Than People? Like, come on!”
“It doesn’t help that Scottie didn’t really inherit any good singing talent,” Tobin chuckled. “She makes up for it with her passion, though.”
“Can you not sing?” Christen wondered, her curiosity around how Scottie came into Tobin’s life getting the better of her. A few comments Tobin had made here and there had piqued her curiosity, and she found herself unable to deny it now.
“Well, no, but I didn’t give birth to her,” Tobin said, having not realized that Christen assumed Scottie was biologically hers. Most people took one look and asked her who Scottie belonged to.
“Oh, you two are so alike, though,” Christen said, her nose wrinkling slightly in confusion as she filed away this bit of information as well.
“You’re the first person to think so,” Tobin sighed. “Most people think I’m her nanny.”
“You smile the same,” Christen observed, fighting off a slight blush. She cleared her throat and scratched at the corner of her jaw. “And your laughs are...identical. But I didn’t exactly figure that out until the second practice, because I didn’t get a smile or laugh out of you that first day,” she added.
“Yeah, that wasn’t the best first impression,” Tobin cringed.
“Mine either. I am sorry, for what it’s worth,” Christen said quietly.
“Me too,” Tobin chuckled. “For spilling your coffee and yelling at you.”
Christen grabbed her water glass from the table and held it up. “To better second impressions...or tenth, whatever number we’ve hit now,” she said with a shy smile.
“Absolutely,” Tobin echoed, lifting her glass to cheers Christen’s.
“Ta-da!” Scottie said, placing a plate of garlic bread in the middle of the table.
“Did you ask Christen if she likes garlic bread before ordering it?” Tobin asked, unable to hide the smile on her face.
“Who doesn’t like garlic bread?” Scottie huffed, a piece of bread midair and on its way to her mouth.
“I’m allergic to garlic,” Christen said seriously, biting back a smile.
“Oh my god,” Tobin muttered under breath, pulling the plate away from Christen and closer to Scottie.
“That’s sadder than the puppy commercial,” Scottie whispered to Tobin.
Christen shook her head with a small laugh, grabbing a piece of garlic bread. “I’m teasing you, kid. I love garlic bread. I love garlic. Garlic on everything please!” she said, taking a big bite of the bread and almost moaning at how stinking good it was.
“It’s the best garlic bread in New York,” Scottie gushed, finally shoving her piece into her mouth.
With a nod, Christen scarfed down her first piece and itched to reach out and grab a second one. It was just so buttery and garlicky and amazing. All she wanted to eat was this garlic bread for dinner.
When Scottie giggled at her and looked away quickly, Christen narrowed her eyes playfully. “What?” she asked, lifting her napkin and wiping it against her bottom lip and around her mouth. “Did I get some of the best garlic bread in New York on my face?”
Scottie reached out and swiped her thumb along the corner of Christen’s mouth. “Don’t worry. I got it,” she said softly, wiping her hands on her napkin.
Christen felt her chest tighten at the gesture, almost painfully so. She smiled weakly over at Scottie and finished wiping her mouth with her napkin before quickly pushing back her chair.
“I’ll be right back,” Christen offered, avoiding Tobin’s questioning gaze as she retreated away from their table and to the small bathroom near the kitchen. She locked herself in the tiny room and walked to the sink. She tossed some cool water against her face and breathed deeply.
“What the hell am I doing?” Christen muttered to herself, shaking her head slightly, the water droplets dripping from her chin and her nose into the sink below her.
The way Scottie had done that, it felt too familiar. Like something a kid would do for their mom.
It was something she’d done whenever her mom had gotten a bit of brownie batter on her chin or buttercream icing on her lip. It was a painful reminder that whatever she was doing, whatever this dinner was, it was more than just her and Tobin involved. There was Scottie too. Scottie, who looked at her like she hung the fucking moon and stars in the sky. Scottie who had already wormed her way into her fractured, tangled, tortured heart. Scottie who already mattered far too much to her.
Whatever was going on, she had to remain objective. She couldn’t give in to the easy banter and the lopsided grin and the warm brown eyes that threatened to look right inside of her and see her for everything she wasn’t.
As Christen patted her face with a towel, she decided to relax and have fun, but remember that nothing more than friendship could ever exist between her and Tobin. That she would never be more than Scottie’s coach, or a friend of her mom’s. Tobin deserved better than her and the amount of baggage she was carrying. So did Scottie.
Back at the table, Tobin took a bite of one of the pieces of garlic bread, trying to listen to Scottie recounting one of Christen’s goals. She tried to let Scottie’s sweet voice relax her and stop her from thinking about the woman who’d just fled the dinner table, looking like a deer in the headlights. She couldn’t help the self-deprecating thought that slipped into her mind: “At least this time you made it to the appetizer.”
But this wasn’t a date, and Christen wasn’t someone she could go out with or think about as more than a friend, as more than Scottie’s role model. She just had to convince her fluttering heart to believe what the logical part of her brain was screaming at her.
“Mommy, are you listening?” Scottie asked, her face covered in buttery garlic.
“Yes, buddy. I’m listening,” Tobin whispered, taking her own napkin and wiping Scottie’s face.
“Sorry about that. What’d I miss?” Christen asked with a smile, sitting back down at the table and putting her napkin in her lap once more.
“Mommy was pretending to listen to me,” Scottie teased.
“That’s grounds for no Tiramisu!” Christen replied in mock offense.
“Woah, woah, woah!” Tobin defended, holding her hands up in surrender. “Let’s not be rash here.”
“I don’t know...Scottie, what do you think? Does she deserve it?” Christen asked.
“I can forgive her, I guess,” Scottie grinned. “Especially this week.”
“This week?” Christen asked, her brow furrowing slightly.
“Tomorrow’s Mommy’s birthday, so I have to be extra sweet this week. It’s the rules,” Scottie said.
“It’s your birthday?” Christen asked, turning her attention to Tobin. She added that information to her ever-growing file on all things Tobin and Scottie Heath.
“Tomorrow,” Tobin shrugged, picking up her water glass. She had never really been a fan of celebrating her birthdays, but it only got worse the older she got. Now, on her birthdays, she woke up to a little kid trying to celebrate the way a kid shouldn’t have to. Scottie planned adorable surprises, but Tobin always wished that she didn’t have to, that the burden didn’t fall on her alone. She secretly wished that Scottie would forget her birthday every year, but without fail, when the month of May hit, Scottie’s calendar would appear with the 29th circled.
“You have to let me pick up dinner now. Think of it as an early birthday present. It’s the least I can do,” Christen replied, suddenly feeling almost guilty for not having known about Tobin’s birthday. Which was ridiculous, they’d just met a month ago and saw each other for a few hours every week. But even so, the slight guilt was there.
“That’s okay. I didn’t play 90 minutes today,” Tobin said, politely refusing the offer.
Christen wasn’t going to take no for an answer, not when there was a cloudiness in Tobin’s eyes that hadn’t been there before her abrupt departure and any mention of a birthday.
“Scottie, tell your mom she’s not paying for dinner okay? My treat for the birthday girl and her kid,” Christen said, turning her attention to the weaker link.
“Mommy, you’re not paying for dinner,” Scottie parroted, glancing up at Tobin’s face.
Christen winked at Scottie, earning her an adorable attempt at a wink back, which was more like a double-blink.
“What’re we having tonight? I assume the usual for you two, but you’ve never brought a guest, so I have to play the waiter role,” Gio said, sliding up to the table.
Christen looked to her left and saw a portly man standing near the table, with a large grin on his rosy-cheeked face.
“I’m guessing you’re Gio?” Christen asked with a smile.
“I’m guessing you’re Christen?” Gio laughed. “Scottie just regaled the entire kitchen with a story about your goals in the game today.”
Christen laughed, throwing her head back a little. “The kid is too nice, it wasn’t anything too special. But it’s nice to meet you, Gio.”
Tobin couldn’t help but stare when Christen laughed like that, completely free and uninhibited. She looked absolutely beautiful.
“Honestly, I looked through the whole menu, and I can’t decide. It all looks too good! So can you just...surprise me?” Christen asked.
“Any allergies or things you hate?” Gio asked, smiling even bigger at the chance to be a little creative in the kitchen.
“If you serve me eggplant, I’ll be a little grumpy,” Christen replied with a chuckle.
“I’ll keep the eggplant off your plate as long as you watch out for my girls,” Gio said, winking at Christen and clearing the empty plate of garlic bread.
Christen felt her chest tighten again at the serious implications behind the playful words. She could only nod, unable to find her voice, and handed Gio her menu.
“Thank you,” Gio said, grabbing each of the menus before he walked away.
“You’re brave,” Scottie said, her eyes growing wide at Christen.
Christen shook her head, knowing Scottie wasn’t making a deep observation but needing to deny it anyway.
“Just indecisive. I can never pick what I want to eat when I go out,” Christen replied, waving her hand in the air.
“What if he gives you broccoli?” Scottie asked, her nose wrinkling a little at the thought, making Tobin laugh.
“I love broccoli almost as much as I love garlic,” Christen said with a teasing smile, taking a small sip of water.
“That’s how she scores such great goals,” Tobin said, hoping beyond hope that Scottie would eat broccoli because her hero did.
“You already tried that with me one time. I’m not eating it, Mommy,” Scottie rolled her eyes, making a funny face in Christen’s direction.
“It was worth a shot,” Tobin sighed.
Christen was surprised at how fast dinner moved after that. Their food came out quickly, and Gio proudly set down a bowl of homemade gnocchi with pesto sauce in front of her, assuring her that it was his best dish on the menu. After just one bite, Christen was inclined to agree with his assessment.
All three of them traded light conversation as their pasta dishes were devoured and as they ordered their two pieces of Tiramisu for dessert, one for Christen and Scottie and one for Tobin.
What surprised Christen the most was how easy it all was. The jokes, the laughter. It felt like they’d all gone out to dinner like this a hundred times before, like this was their Saturday night routine, and not just Tobin’s and Scottie’s. The ease of it all scared Christen just a little, and had her remembering her promise to keep things as just friends between her and Tobin. Which was hard enough to remember when Tobin interacted with Scottie, and only got harder as the night wore on and Tobin kept looking at her like that .
Tobin was in the same boat, finding it difficult to remember to look away from the woman across from her. She just felt drawn to her soft smiles and bright eyes. The way she laughed made Tobin’s entire body feel warm, and the way she spoke to Scottie made her heart melt. She felt completely overwhelmed by the way Christen gestured with her hands when she talked, and how she kept getting a tiny bit of pesto on her lips with each bite she took.
Christen Press revealed more and more just how beautiful she was, inside and out, with each moment Tobin spent with her. Tobin had to force herself to pay attention to the conversation, which Scottie thankfully dominated. “You can be friends with her. Like you are with Glennon and Abby. Nothing more. She’s in Scottie’s world, not yours,” Tobin continued to remind herself, making sure to draw the line between friends and more than friends in thick Sharpie in her mind.
“Christen?” Scottie asked, her eyes getting a little heavier as they waited for their Tiramisu to come out and the night got just a little bit later.
“Yeah?” Christen replied, leaning her arms on the table and fixing the girl with a smile.
“Do you ever write names on your tape?” Scottie asked, her eyes serious and thoughtful.
Christen blinked and sat back in the chair, as if that could possibly give her some distance from the personal question. The kind of personal question which required a personal answer. The kind of personal answer she’d been skirting all night whenever Tobin asked her about college or her childhood or her family.
“Her what?” Tobin asked, confused about what Scottie was referencing. She hadn’t been that inattentive in the dinner conversation.
“The tape she puts on her wrist for games to remember why she plays,” Scottie clarified, looking between the two women.
Christen subconsciously rubbed her left wrist, where the tape had been hours ago. “Um, I haven’t put any names down yet. Just those numbers. But maybe someday,” Christen replied quietly.
“Maybe if you meet someone with a cool name,” Scottie suggested, not fully getting that the name didn’t matter as much as who it belonged to.
“Yeah, maybe,” Christen agreed, swallowing thickly and finding solace in a large sip of water.
Tobin watched Christen intently, noticing her hesitation and the way her eyes seemed a little flighty, maybe even scared. She didn’t like the fear or the fact that Christen felt it in her favorite restaurant with her little family.
“I used to play soccer with someone who never washed her socks,” Tobin said, knowing that would distract Scottie from asking Christen any more questions.
“Ewww,” Scottie giggled. “Why?”
“She thought it was lucky, I guess,” Tobin shrugged.
“Morgan Brian?” Christen asked with a weak chuckle, her chest still a little tight and her heart hurting a bit.
Tobin sent a wink Christen’s way. “You got it!”
“Auntie Moe Moe?! That’s so yucky! Does she still do that?” Scottie asked, looking between Tobin and Christen.
“Only during the Challenge Cup,” Christen replied, wrinkling her nose at the memory of the rank smell Morgan’s socks always left in the locker room.
“Christen?” Scottie asked.
Christen blew out a short breath and fixed a half-smile on her face. “Yes?” she replied, almost scared about what Scottie was going to ask her.
“Do you want to go to the park tomorrow?”
Christen hesitated, remembering her resolution to stay friends with Tobin and try not to get too involved.
“You can say no,” Tobin said again, not liking the hesitation she could see in Christen’s face.
“We always take the subway uptown and get bagels to eat in the park on Mommy’s day,” Scottie said.
“I have a recovery session tomorrow, but I’ll try to make it okay?” Christen replied, wondering if she was actually going to try to make it. Part of her wanted to, but another part of her wanted to sprint in the complete opposite direction and save these two wonderful people the heartache she would surely bring them.
“Scottie, why don’t you check on the Tiramisus and tell Gio about your pick-up game on Sunday,” Tobin suggested, sending Scottie scrambling from her seat and racing to the kitchen.
Tobin looked across the table at Christen’s face, still seeing that same hesitation that she’d been seeing all night, the same hesitation that flickered in Christen’s eyes sometimes when they spoke at practices or sipped their coffees on the bench together. “I’m sorry. Sometimes she gets really excited and asks for too much all at once,” Tobin apologized.
“It’s fine,” Christen waved off.
“You won’t upset her if you don’t want to come. One bite of a bagel, and all will be well,” Tobin continued, giving Christen the out she seemed desperate to have.
“It’s not that I don’t want to,” Christen said quietly, dropping her eyes to her lap and starting to fiddle with the napkin again.
“Then what?” Tobin asked. “You can just tell her if you can’t make it from practice.”
There were so many ways to answer that question, so many things Christen could say. Things like I want to but I’m fucked up and will end up disappointing your kid; You two deserve better than me; I can’t fall for both of you and be the one to hurt you when you find out how broken I am. But she didn’t say any of those. She couldn’t.
“She’d be expecting Coach Christen, her favorite soccer player, to show up at the park tomorrow. And some days, I don’t wake up as her. When I’m not on the field, I’m not her. I don’t think I could survive disappointing her like that,” Christen said, going for vague yet honest and hoping she’d managed to thread the needle.
“She seems to like you fine right now, and I don’t see a field,” Tobin shrugged. “But I get it if hanging out in Central Park with a seven-year-old isn’t your ideal way to spend a Sunday.”
Christen’s eyes narrowed a little bit. “What does that mean?” she asked, curious about the slight tightness in Tobin’s voice.
“Which part? There really aren’t soccer fields in Little Italy,” Tobin teased.
“The last part,” Christen replied, not laughing in the slightest at the teasing. Not when it sounded like Tobin didn’t think she was the kind of person who would do that, like Tobin was judging her for something.
Tobin shrugged, not really wanting to say that most people don’t give her a chance when they find out about Scottie. She didn’t want to imply that she wanted a chance with Christen.
“Most people run the opposite direction,” Tobin said, glancing over Christen’s shoulder to the kitchen.
A wave of understanding flashed through Christen. It wasn’t a comment on her, so much as a comment on every other person Tobin and Scottie had probably tried to include in their lives. Tobin wasn’t judging her and assuming she wouldn’t be the kind of person to hang out with them at the park. Tobin was just assuming that was the case because it had always been the case with others.
“What time do you get to the park?” Christen asked softly.
“She lets me sleep in on my birthday. It’s the only day all year that I get to sleep past 9:00,” Tobin smiled. “We usually get the bagels as more of a lunch than a breakfast.”
Christen reached into her purse and pulled out her phone, opening it. “Put your number in. I’ll text you when I’m on the way,” Christen replied.
“That wasn’t me trying to guilt you into it or anything,” Tobin said, quickly thinking the worst and wishing she hadn’t said something so honest.
“That’s not why I decided to come,” Christen shrugged, shaking the phone slightly in the air for Tobin to take.
Tobin took the phone from Christen’s hands, typing in her number and handing it back.
“Recovery usually goes until noon, but I’ll get there as soon as I can,” Christen said, putting her phone back into her purse and trying not to think too hard on her decision to see Tobin and Scottie again tomorrow. It didn’t mean anything. She was just trying to be nice. She was just curious. But that excuse was starting to get a little thin and she knew it.
“What kind of bagel do you like?” Tobin asked, unable to keep the small smile off her face at the idea of seeing Christen the next day.
“Cinnamon raisin,” Christen grinned.
“Goes well with the dirty chai, I guess,” Tobin hummed.
“Match made in heaven,” Christen agreed.
“Tiramisu time!” Scottie cheered, placing one down in front of Christen and letting Gio put the other in front of Tobin. Scottie ended up helping both of the women eat their desserts, getting most of it on her face and making Tobin and Christen laugh with her silly stories.
And just as she promised, Christen wouldn’t let Tobin get the bill, explaining that she deserved a free dinner the day before her birthday. When dinner was over and they’d returned to Tobin's place, Christen quickly hailed a cab. As she slid into it, she waved goodbye to Tobin and Scottie, who stood outside of the garage with identical, large smiles on both of their faces.
Christen should have known this would happen. She should have expected it. She’d had too many good days, too many days with smiles and laughter, especially after spending almost all of Sunday in Central Park with Tobin and Scottie.
They’d eaten bagels and fed the ducks in the pond. They’d strolled around and then found a patch of grass on a hill to lay down on and cloud watch. It had felt easy too, and familiar, and intimate in a way that caught Christen completely off guard.
But it was now Tuesday and gone were the smiles and the laughter. Christen had woken up and felt it immediately, that heaviness in her limbs and in her heart. She knew, without a shadow of a doubt, that she wouldn’t be getting out of bed today.
There was no trigger, no cause. There never was. She just was due for a bad day and it had finally shown up. It came with pain behind her eyes and an ache in her chest and a strong desire to go to sleep and not wake up for the next 48 hours.
She sent off a quick text to Amanda and Kelley, letting them know she was sick and wouldn’t be coming to practice or the Development Academy training. She then rolled over in bed and pulled her blankets tighter around herself, feeling a shiver run through her.
Her last thought as she drifted off to sleep was that she hoped Scottie and Tobin wouldn’t be too disappointed that she wasn’t there.
“Where’s Christen?” Scottie asked as soon as she reached Kelley’s side, Tobin trailing slowly behind her with a tray of coffees.
“Hey, Mini Tar Heel. She’s, uh, sick today and won’t be here,” Kelley replied, her voice laced with concern she was trying desperately to mask.
“Mommy, she’s sick,” Scottie pouted, feeling bummed that she couldn’t show Christen the new step-over trick she’d learned yesterday.
“That’s too bad,” Tobin said, keeping her voice as neutral as she could, despite feeling a little disappointed that she didn’t get to see Christen that day. She shook her head softly, wishing that she didn’t want to see Christen, that seeing Christen didn’t set her heart racing at a blistering pace.
“That’s okay, though, because your favorite coach is still here! Right?” Kelley asked with a smile, trying to cheer Scottie up.
“You’re silly, Coach Kelley,” Scottie giggled.
“But I made you smile, didn’t I?” Kelley grinned, getting a nod from Scottie.
“Coffee?” Tobin offered, holding out the tray.
“Bless you, Tar Heel,” Kelley groaned, grabbing her coffee cup and snagging Becky’s from the tray too. “I’m gonna run this over to Brunn. And since we’re down a man today...would you maybe want to help out?”
“Really?” Tobin asked, raising her eyebrows a little at the suggestion.
“Just don’t convince these girls to go to UNC,” Kelley winked.
“That’ll be the first order of business,” Tobin grinned.
Kelley laughed and started backing away to where Becky was organizing the cones by color.
“We just need another strong voice out here who actually knows stuff about footy. Don’t sweat it, Heath, it’ll be fun!” Kelley said with a smile.
Tobin shot Kelley a thumbs up, not all that worried about coaching little kids, since she spent every minute of her time with one.
“Mommy, we should do something for Christen. She’s sick, so maybe she needs chicken noodle soup and a painting,” Scottie said thoughtfully. “Can we bring her them after training?” she asked, looking up at Tobin, jutting her lower lip out slightly.
“That’s a really sweet idea, little bit, but we don't know where she lives,” Tobin said, brushing her fingers through Scottie’s hair.
“Rats,” Scottie pouted, her brow furrowing. “Maybe we can bring them to the next practice then?”
“That sounds like a good plan,” Tobin hummed, loving how sweet Scottie could be. “Why don’t you go put your bag on the sidelines and juggle or pass with me?” Tobin suggested.
“Okay!” Scottie agreed, running over to throw her bag onto the sidelines with very little care. She grabbed a soccer ball and started dribbling it over to Tobin.
Tobin couldn’t help the way her stomach churned, worrying that maybe this weekend had been too much, that she and Scottie had been too much.
The day at the park had been perfect, full of laughter and teasing and sweet moments with Scottie, but it wasn’t lost on Tobin that there were still fleeting moments when what looked like worry or apprehension and even fear flickered in Christen’s eyes. The hopeful part of Tobin’s brain wanted to believe that Christen was just sick with a cold, but the louder part pointed out that maybe Christen just wanted space, and seeing them at practice was the opposite of that. “Don’t think about her. She’s just Scottie’s coach. You’re nothing more than friends, so she doesn’t need to avoid you. There’s nothing there.”
Tobin had started teaching herself how to cook within the first week of having Scottie. She hadn’t really realized how sorely lacking she was when it came to typical parent skills. It had been a learning curve filled with lots of crying from both of them, tons of burnt dinners that ended up in the trash, and sweet cuddle sessions to make up for everything she failed at. After nearly five years with Scottie, though, Tobin considered herself a decent cook. She wouldn’t say it was a talent, and she certainly wouldn’t invite a woman over on a date and cook for her, but she was skilled enough to keep Scottie happy and healthy.
Tonight, Scottie had insisted on making homemade quesadillas, and although she was pretty bad at it, Tobin couldn’t resist Scottie's pout when she asked to help flip the quesadillas, spilling most of the filling on the stovetop. It was Scottie’s infectious laugh that made making messes a fun and sweet part of life. Scottie was standing on the short kitchen stool in front of Tobin, her hands wrapped around the spatula and Tobin’s arms around her waist, the two of them giggling and snatching cheese from the bag on the counter.
“Don’t pick it up,” Tobin said, catching Scottie’s hand in her own, so that the seven-year-old wouldn’t stick her hand onto the hot stovetop to eat the piece of chicken she’d just knocked off of the griddle.
“I wasn’t gonna!” Scottie protested.
“Likely story, little bit,” Tobin teased, kissing Scottie’s temple. “I think we’ve got enough quesadillas to last all week,” she added with a grin, glancing over at the plate with a stack of quesadillas on it.
“I wish we could bring some to Christen,” Scottie sighed, her little voice tight with worry.
Tobin wanted to kick herself for the way her stomach flipped at the name. “I know, buddy. That would be pretty nice.”
“Maybe you can text her? Like we did with Auntie Moe Moe!” Scottie said, brightening with the suggestion.
“I don’t know if she’ll want me to text her, dude,” Tobin sighed, helping Scottie down from the stool and turning off the burner.
“You never know if you never try,” Scottie retorted, throwing something Tobin said to her often right back in Tobin’s face.
“Look at you becoming all wise,” Tobin grinned. “Let’s eat and think of something we might want to tell her.”
Scottie grabbed Tobin’s phone from the counter. “I already know what I want to say.”
Tobin’s eyes widened, not really wanting Scottie to bother Christen if she really was sick in bed at home and definitely not wanting Scottie to bother Christen if she wasn’t sick and was really freaked out about the weekend she’d spent with them.
“What’s that?” Tobin asked, stepping closer.
“I’m going to tell her to feel better and that I miss her and that we made extra quesadillas if she’s hungry right now,” Scottie replied, swiping open the phone and pulling up the texting app.
“Are you going to say it’s from you?” Tobin asked, not sure if this was the best idea. No parenting book had discussed whether you should let your daughter text a woman that you might like but definitely couldn’t like and offer her quesadillas.
“Duh, Mommy. I’m going to send a picture of myself eating my quesadilla,” Scottie rolled her eyes.
“Cool,” Tobin hummed, trying not to freak out. She carried the plate of quesadillas to the table and set it down in the middle of it, checking to make sure she and Scottie both had water and napkins before she sat down.
“How do you spell quesadilla?” Scottie asked, trudging over to her spot at the table.
“Q-U-E-S-A-D-I-L-L-A,” Tobin spelled out slowly, her stomach tightening a little at how Christen would respond to this.
With a sigh, Scottie slid the phone across the table. “That’s too many letters. You type it, please and thank you!”
“Okay,” Tobin mumbled, typing the word out for Scottie and correcting a couple of other words she’d misspelled before sliding it back.
“How do I send a pictur- oops,” Scottie murmured, her face getting red with embarrassment.
“Oops?” Tobin asked, her entire body tensing up. “Oops, what?”
“I figured out how to send a picture,” Scottie mumbled.
“Why did you say oops?” Tobin asked, reaching out for the phone.
Scottie handed the phone over, an apologetic pout playing at her lips. “It wasn’t of me…”
“Scottie,” Tobin grumbled. “You should have just asked and waited for me to show you instead of clicking buttons.”
“I’m sorry, Mommy. But it’s okay because Christen likes you and now she can have pictures of both of us,” Scottie said with a small shrug of her shoulders, as if all of that made it okay to send a slightly blurry, candid picture of Tobin to Christen with absolutely no context since Scottie hadn’t sent her text yet.
Tobin could feel a blush rising to her cheeks and pressed send on Scottie’s text as quickly as she could, hoping to give Christen some context, so that she knew it was Scottie sending her messages and not her being weird. “You want me to take your picture?” Tobin asked, trying to change the subject.
Scottie grabbed her quesadilla from her plate and held it up proudly, shooting Tobin that toothy grin that she loved so much.
“Say Krispy Kreme,” Tobin said, snapping the picture.
“Krispy Kreme!” Scottie grinned.
“You want to see it before I send it?” Tobin asked, turning the phone around to show Scottie.
“Do I look cute?” Scottie asked, taking a big bite of her quesadilla.
“You always look cute,” Tobin laughed.
“Okay, send it!” Scottie replied with her mouth full of chicken and tortilla and rice.
Tobin pressed send, hoping that Christen would forget about the blurry picture of her in favor of looking at Scottie’s huge, toothy smile.
“Is it good?” Tobin asked, putting her phone down and focusing on the dinner they made.
“It’s yummy. I hope Christen likes quesadillas. I don’t think I could hang out with someone who doesn’t like quesadillas,” Scottie said matter-of-factly.
“I bet she does,” Tobin hummed, realizing that she had no chance of escaping talking about Christen Press, not with Scottie in her house.